(Washington, DC--March 7, 2002) An expert on the state of religious freedom in Communist and ex-communist countries told an RFE/RL audience today that the secular authoritarian governments of most of the successor states of the former Soviet Union have "emasculated" the traditional religious confessions of the region.
Lawrence Uzzell, Director of the Oxford-based Keston Institute, said that "seventy years of official atheism has secularized religion, even Islam" in most of the countries which emerged from the Soviet Union. Uzzell noted that the old Soviet practice of providing state subsidies to recognized confessions remains in place, more than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union. "Corruption is what dominates church-state relations, particularly in Russia," Uzzell said. As a result, local religious leaders rarely take a position on state matters that have a direct impact on their moral teachings and beliefs, "such as the homeless in major cities, abortion, war atrocities in Chechnya or forced expulsions."
In Russia, however, Uzzell said that in the last six months there has been "mounting tension between [Russian President] Putin and the Patriarchate in Moscow," because the Kremlin "has not consulted with the Patriarch over a draft law that would create a new category of extremist religious organizations, and make membership in the organizations a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment." Uzzell said that the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate objects to the draft law--not on grounds of religious tolerance, nor religious freedom, but because this category will "be determined by state authorities ... effectively setting up a rival power center."